Censorship in Games (Part 5)

Read Part 4 First!

Second, how many people do you think will eventually get their hands on this game? According to the Greenlight page, 160,000 or so people visited and voted on it. I would assume most of those numbers came just from the game journalist outfits, some people looking to rock the politically correct boat, and people who are genuinely curious as to how much like Smash TV it will be. Furthermore, its potential audience outside of gaming enthusiasts is rather limited. We can think of any number of things, from the fact that it takes a lot to both own a PC, download Steam (or even know what it is), and then buy an M-rated game – that’s a whole lot of steps, and Valve knows this. Appealing to a niche makes perfect sense for one big reason: the cost of acquisition for Valve is high with many barriers to entry. This explains their “opening of the floodgates” and community curation – that’s less work they need to do! Just to even know Hatred exists, let alone find a platform to play it on, seems like a tough prospect. Its content alone is iffy, but these barriers act as natural limitations on its potential sales (fortunately or not).

As an aside, Valve also needs to adjust to the fact that many of their games play best, or even exclusively, on Windows platforms. They always rely on the changes in Windows hardware, and that’s a perilous place to be. If you ever wondered why Steam Boxes turned into a market at all, now you know: it’s an exit strategy in case game support and/or personal computers suddenly disappear in the next few decades. Thus, the diversification isn’t merely in content but in visibility throughout the whole gaming/technology market.

Still, I find it patently absurd that people think this will magically drop into the hands of children. People want to compare violent or sexually explicit games like Hatred to vices like alcohol and pornography, but it’s just not a good comparison. Neither of them are easily accessible either! With a store on the street, everybody in modern culture know pornography and alcohol are vices that do, indeed, sell. I’m going to doubt liquor stores, which are often established and built by states specifically for tax income, are targeting consumers in that sense (public welfare and all that jazz). As for adult bookstores and the like, local governments are incredibly hesitant to allow them to be built anywhere. Most times, they deal with discrimination for their product. They also deal with obtuse zoning ordinances that don’t allow them to be built in many public places due to the so-called “second effects” rationale (an argument of interpretation of the First Amendment) which you are now expressing in terms of the Internet. Licensing is incredibly difficult for them to get at all, and any minor infractions often lead to them closing down. Targeting consumers of a particular bent is really the least of their worries.

(Now if you want to make a real comparison, Internet porn might work. Then again, that’s free and, well, not that diverse. Hatred is a pay product that I imagine will get pirated by those in the know, so it’s still not going outside its circle of Internet people).

Again, all of this is mostly because they are widely accessible in a major public square, and that’s why they are regulated for those specific purposes (then again, you could really just swindle a porn mag from your local convenience store, if so inclined). Hatred,Steam, and digital distribution in general, is not like this. Steam is, in the grand scheme, a niche market player who acts as a middle man between developers, publishers, and the general public almost solely for the PC market. Yes, the PC market itself IS growing, surely, but it’s growing in a more niche direction – given that most of the growth comes from hardware upgrades, not necessarily software. Again, these are lots of hoops, admittedly hoops that millenials can navigate. But where does the responsibility lie?

I wager, with the realities of the market, the majority of people who will play Hatred know what it is because they are gamers, and as games become more targeted towards niche audiences because of the prevalence of indie titles and low budget fair designed for those audiences, Hatred’s audience will be pretty established in its specific niche. I imagine a few people will play out of pure curiosity, but the vast majority know what it is and it’s designed for them. They will not “impulse buy” unless it ends up on a Steam discount. You will need to seek it out to find it.

But here’s the big question: what person talking about Hatred really KNEW about Hatred before the foolish shock culture brouhaha? Journalists and sites know this stuff gets hits, and Destructive Creations knows it’s free marketing, so everybody wins (even Valve, given their 30% take on every unit sold of everything). Money talks, and as a consumerist business video games runs on money. Controversy, especially, sells. Valve is a business, and they know the power they wield to flush a developer’s career down the toilet, so they brought it back onto Greenlight.

If they want to make their game, I say let them make it and sell it wherever they wish. I cannot prevent people from doing the things they want to do, and to ban it makes it more attractive (as has obviously become the case here). The Internet is still very much a Wild West, and people always find ways to get things legally or illegally, so it seems like a moot point whether or not it’s sold on Steam. The video game market is certainly diverse enough to handle a game like Hatred, I think, and consider it without immediately jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

This is why censorship makes no sense to me: people, especially Internet people, will find what they want regardless of whether or not some external authority tells them not to do it. Have you ever heard of the Pirate Bay? And various free Mp3 downloadable services before that? And probably plenty of other illegal sharing before that? Yeah, I thought so. As I said, the Internet is a Wild West, full of random Internet memes that careen Target employees to temporary popularity and somehow evade every international law enforcement organization through the anonymity and motivation of anarchic torrenting. If someone wants to find Hatred, they will find it, just like they found all the rest of the scary things I now know about because of the Internet.

If you want to remove the desire for such things, you need to change the way people think, not ban the things that society tells them to want. Some people will always be contrarians, of course, and you’ll just need to accept that they will want something regardless of the concequences. Banning the thing in question, though, is a sure-fire ticket to ban any and all future conversations about controversial things.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.